John Wick fans are finally getting a video game. Set before the events of the film franchise, John Wick Hex follows Wick’s hunt for the mysterious Hex. The turn-based action strategy game pits Wick against a variety of enemies with limited ammunition and health.
For context, I have only watched the first John Wick film, and I liked it quite a bit. As a prequel, John Wick Hex’s narrative is best enjoyed after watching the first film at a bare minimum. While the game does a decent job introducing characters, gamers do need the context of watching John Wick to appreciate the familiar faces that pop up. The developers have clearly worked with the team behind the films as the game’s story fits in well beside the first John Wick movie. Even without watching the films, the game’s story serves as an enjoyable narrative for the levels. While Wick is a mute actor throughout the bloodshed, the conversation between Charon, Winston, and Hex provide the game with some much-needed character development and drama.
The developers have stated repeatedly their goal with John Wick Hex is to recreate Wick’s methodical and tactical combat style. Each level consists of a hex-based grid filled with enemies and spawn points for extra foes. To win, players must either make their way to the end of the level or defeat a boss. While Wick is a highly trained assassin, he’s only human at the end of the day with a limited amount of health and ammunition. The flow of time breaks from the traditional turn-based mechanic in favour of a timeline system that has all characters moving at the same time. Wick has the advantage of planning his moves a few seconds ahead of NPCs, allowing the player to interrupt enemies, hide from incoming fire, and dodge attacks. Game changing abilities like takedowns and rolling from cover to cover consumes focus, so players can’t engage large groups and expect to lock them all down with stuns.
To offset the limited health and ammunition, players are given a set number of tokens at the beginning of each area to purchase buffs and stash guns and bandages around different levels. It doesn’t fit perfectly in the lore, but it is a decent system that helps players adjust the difficulty for themselves, allowing them to hit certain achievements or giving them a little extra health for a particularly tough area.
When it comes down to the combat style, John Wick Hex lives up to the lofty standards set up by the movies. Every movement must be calculated, and the game can be downright punishing for wasting time or being inattentive to the actions on the timeline. While players may not appreciate the smoothness of Wick’s combat style while planning and executing attacks, watching the replay at the end of the level feels like watching your own little version of a John Wick film.
The biggest issue with John Wick Hex is the fact the game can get a little repetitive at times once players figure out the game’s rhythm. Players need to move in and out of cover that breaks line of sight, refilling their focus gauge whenever possible, using takedowns on anyone that gets too close, and shooting gun-toting enemies. From there, players simply hop from firearm to firearm until they reach the end. Boss fights don’t really shake up the mechanics, as it is generally safer to keep a boss locked down with takedowns. The level design rarely breaks up the rhythm outside of moments where hordes of melee enemies are thrown at the player. Suddenly, the game is no longer about methodically weeding out enemies one by one and turns into a frantic game of crowd control management.
The controls are simple but well executed. Players use the mouse to command Wick and control the camera with the keyboard. Those with non-QWERTY layouts will probably struggle though as the game has no options for rebinding keys.
The visual style is excellent. John Wick Hex opts for a comic book presentation. The colour palette is striking with the dark, almost monotone base and sudden splashes of pinks and purple standing in for the game’s gore. The individual animations look great and feel like they were ripped right out of the movie. On the other hand, the strike animations don’t properly transition from a takedown. It looks odd to see a downed enemy suddenly teleport onto their feet, promptly get smacked in the face, and drop back down to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The audio experience is solid. The soundtrack is an enjoyable accompaniment to the game. The sound effects are simple but practical, with a good variety of weapon sounds to differentiate the arsenal Wick will eventually use. A few film characters reprise their roles in the game and deliver flawless performances.
Fans of the John Wick franchise will appreciate the detail the developers have put to recreate the film’s combat style. While the combat mechanics offer a good challenge, the level design often causes the game to fall into a predictable pattern. While the game is worth picking up right away for fans of the film franchise and those looking for a new take on the turn-based action game, John Wick Hex will be a safer purchase for most when the first sales roll around.
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